On the verge of being five albums old, it’s easy enough to brush over the prolific career that has taken the Arctic Monkeys from being the first ‘Myspace band’ to Mercury winners, to where they are now: comfortably the best British guitar band for a generation.
There was nothing spectacular about their sudden rise in popularity in Yorkshire, seeing local boys turn good is something we take immense pride in around these parts. However, via the internet, word of mouth and largely their undeniable ability to endear, it wasn’t long before the band were popular in every corner of the country.
Over the past eight years since their debut record was released, my generation's Fab Four have grown as both men and musicians. The shy teenage boys that once reluctantly faced the media now take Glastonbury headline bookings in their stride. A uniform of Fred Perry polos and bootcut jeans have been replaced by leather trousers with sequined jackets and their Sheffield homes may well have been vacated for mansions in America, but the charismatic personality that propelled the Arctic Monkeys onwards has never been lost.
‘AM’ is shaping up to be another well polished boot step forwards for the band, readjusting their sound and retesting their boundaries. Drum machines, spoken word poetry performances and forays in to falsetto await, but the all conquering Monkeys would be nowhere without their impressively laden back catalogue. Early demos, unconventional covers and shrewd collaborations have all helped them along their path, so what better way of preparing for the new record is there than a whistle stop tour of what placed Turner, Helders, Cook and O’Malley at the pinnacle of their game.
Bigger Boys And Stolen Sweethearts
Infectious rhythm, witty lyrics and the unmistakable sound of the Sheffield accent shining through, the blueprint for the Arctic Monkeys success was clear from the beginning. A demo, released on early compilations and file shared across the web in the formative years of the band, their ability to take a normal situation - in this case, a slight inferiority complex - and turn it into a 3minute indie masterpiece is evident, and a clear sign of things to come.
I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor
Not many ‘breakthrough’ singles begin with aggressive instrumentals and nods to Duran Duran, but that’s exactly what woke the nation up to the Arctic Monkeys. Politicians, namely Gordon Brown, claimed that they were fans of the band in order to endear themselves to the younger demographic, and the wheels were set in motion for the success of the band and the first record. Not a bad start, considering it’s a tune about catching a lasses eye in a club, is it?
When The Sun Goes Down
Songs about ‘the oldest profession in the world’ are strangely successful, in this day and age. Alex Turner’s answer to 'Roxanne', the song originally titled ‘Scummy’ recounts a tale of prostitutes, pimps and punters in the urban metropolis that is Sheffield. A hearty and sure fire sing along at gigs and festivals alike, this early release on faithful label Domino dispelled any fears that they could be a one hit wonder.
An album track from their all conquering debut record, 'Mardy Bum' was a song before their years. Teenagers when it was released, a song describing petty fights within long-term relationships struck a chord with their older fans, and men finally had their reply to ‘Independent Women’ by Destiny’s Child. A song that the band famously fell out of love with for a long period, it has reluctantly made a live return just recently, most spectacularly at Glastonbury accompanied by a Guy Garvey composed string section.
Leave Before The Lights Come On
Kicking off the bands tradition of releasing brilliant stand alone material and singles in between record cycles, 'Leave Before The Lights Come On' is the unofficial closing track for their debut record. With the first album confessed to be a concept record in part, the events of each song are supposed take place within the same night out, although perhaps not always chronologically - in a timeline then, this song fits in as the anthem for the morning after the night before, with a mournful eye on the one night stand.
A song about a stalker they once had unexpectantly confront them backstage called Brian, the first single from their second record marked a step forward for their sound, leaving any accusations that they may try an Oasis like attempt at recreating what had come before gladly unfound. Their musicianship had improved, Nick O’Malley had come in to take ownership of the bass and the songs produced highlighted that they boys were begging to acknowledge that there was a world away from the streets in High Green and Hillsborough.
A song that shares the most with their earlier work, 'Teddy Picker' walked the same line of infectious rhythm, witty lyrics and nods to Duran Duran all projected by the Yorkshire twang that was now becoming a signature. At face value, a song about the arcade game where you use a limp mechanical crane to to try and capture misshapen soft toys, it marked a shift in Turner’s lyrics away from the literal toward the ambiguous, and a career long obsession with the use literary devices and metaphor.
In their first real recorded collaboration, Miles Kane provides sprawling lead guitar on '505', signaling the most obvious overlap between Alex Turner’s first band and his side-project The Last Shadow Puppets, in which he duets with Kane. Foreshadowing the darker, deeper and more menacing sound that was to follow on their third record, '505' has grown to become the staple curtain closer for the band. Unrecognisable from what they’d released previously, especially anything on their debut record, the less open minded people amongst their fan base began to be alienated by the change in direction, whilst simultaneously picking up new fans in return.
The first release from their third record, the band left the comforts of home and found Homme. Under the tutelage of the Queens Of The Stone Age frontman in the legendary Rancho De La Luna studios in the Californian desert, the material that emerged was a sharp left turn from what had been produced previously. Ambiguity ran rife amongst the lyrics, the music had gone from being inspired by The Strokes to the Sabbath and the wit involved was laced poetically inside the songs, rather than being glaring punchlines.
Evolving in a cliched manner from boys in to men in the desert, the themes in their music took a more adult turn too, growing in maturity to match the bands new longer hair and unkept beards. A love song, centered around an acoustic guitar, made sure the average BPM on the record was going to be lower than anything they’d created before. People that once doubted whether or not Turner was as competent and creative a lyricist as he had displayed earlier on now had to eat humble pie.
Although the band, and Alex Turner more specifically, claim that the song isn’t about his own appendage, it’s hard to get past the idea once the idea’s been floated and you’ve read the lyrics. Fully embracing Josh Homme’s ability as a songwriter to pen lyrics seemingly about nothing in particular, all the while knowing the inside joke, the song could quite easily be something from the Queens themselves.
Brick By Brick
Released out of the blue on YouTube without any prior build up, the Matt Helders lead first release from their fourth record was a welcome return for the band, signaling the end of the longest wait between studio albums we’d had since their debut. A thinly veiled ode to the wonders of cocaine ingestion, it pointed toward yet another change of tact for the band, marrying what they’d learned making Humbug to what had brought them so much success previously.
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
Lyrically a nonsense, musically a masterpiece, 'Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair' is both a song and song title that any other band in the world bar the Arctic Monkeys would be likely to get away with releasing. A signal of the growing self-confidence within the band, all four members take their chosen roles and crank it up to the proverbial ’11’.
The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
A perfect song to sum up the sonic mood of the fourth record, this ridiculously titled tune see’s Turner employ a perfect pop structure to the songwriting, with clearly defined verses and choruses. Far from being a throwaway number, the almost psychedelic shalalala choruses are played off wonderfully against a fuzzy guitar riff and a standout O’Malley bassline.
Come Together (Beatles Cover)
A cover played at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the Arctic Monkeys announced themselves on the global stage as the band that Britain wanted to be represented and judged by in 2012. Taking on The Beatles classic, the band didn’t pander to the original Fab Four’s arrangement and made it their own, cementing their place as Britain’s premier musical export.
R U Mine?
The song that, apparently, was the catalyst for the recording and sound of their upcoming fifth studio album, 'R U Mine?' is an advert for taking influence from pop music and using it properly. Vocals with harmony, falsetto and a hint of R’n’B about it, the band seem determined to make themselves impossible to pigeonhole. Straddling genre’s, pushing their own ability and testing their own core audience by so drastically changing tact record from record, the boys continually prove that they’ve mastered a Madonna like knack for nailing artistic reinvention.
Do I Wanna Know?
Virtually a slow jam, the band show that they know how to get sexy when they want to. Turner’s lead vocals perfectly backed up by the 90s backing vocals by Helders and O’Malley, the lads obviously have huge amounts of faith and admiration for their new material, opening their recent headline slot at Glastonbury with this tune while it was virtually still box fresh.
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
“It’s a cool, sexy, after midnight record”. That’s what Josh Homme had to say about ‘AM’ after hearing the record when lending his backing vocals. As far as being cool and sexy goes, he wasn’t far wrong when you hear new single 'Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?' - a song similar in theme as something that could have appeared on their debut, but further away in terms of sound then you ever really thought possible. If the new material continues down this path, it won’t be long before they’re the first guitar band to be championed on 1Extra.
Arctic Monkeys' new album 'AM' is released on the 9th September. You can pre-order it here